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The Catholic Encyclopedia

Joseph, Baron von Hammer-Purgstall

A distinguished Austrian Orientalist; b. at Graz, 9 June, 1774; d. at Vienna, 23 November, 1856. He studied at Graz and Vienna, entering the Oriental academy of Vienna in 1788, to devote himself to Oriental languages. His first scholarly work was done as collaborator of von Jenisch, the editor of Meninski's Arabic-Persian-Turkish dictionary. In 1796 he entered the Austrian diplomatic service as secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs, was appointed interpreter to the internuncio at Constantinople in 1799 and was sent from there to Egypt where he took part in as secretary in the campaign of the English and Turks against the French. He returned to Vienna in April, 1802, but in August went again to Constantinople as secretary of the legation, remaining there until 1807, when he returned definitely to Vienna, where he continued to serve in various diplomatic capacities. In 1817 he was made Aulic Councillor, was knighted in 1824, and when he inherited the Styrian estates of the Countess Purgstall in 1835, he was made a baron and received permission to join her name to his. In 1847 he was elected president of the newly founded Academy of Sciences. Hammer-Purgstall was a very prolific writer. His knowledge of Oriental languages was extensive but not thorough. This detracts seriously from the value of his work; his text editions are unreliable and his translations often inaccurate. Much of his work is today antiquated. But his wide range of studies enabled him to make valuable contributions to the field of Oriental history, while his translations have exerted a noteworthy influence, especially on German literature. His version of the Persian poems of Hafiz inspired Goethe's "Westöstliche Divan" (1815-1819); Rückert and Platen were also indebted to him.

His chief historical works are: "Die Staatsverfassung und Staatsverwaltung des osmanischen Reichs" (Vienna, 1814, 2 vols.); "Geschichte der Assassinen" (Stuttgart and Tübingen, 1818); "Geschichte des osmanischen Reichs" (Pest, 1827-35, 10 vols.); "Gemaldesaal der Lebensbeschreibungen grosser moslimischer Herrscher" (Darmstadt, 1837-39, 6 vols); "Geschichte der Goldenen Horde in Kiptschalk" (Pest, 1840); "Geschichte der Ilchane" (Darmstadt,1843, 2 vols.); and "Geschichte der Chane der Krim" (Vienna, 1856). His translations are numerous. From the Arabic he translated the poems of Mutanabbi (Vienna, 1824), and the "Atwak al-dhahab" of Zamahsharl under the title "Samachscharis Goldene Halsbander" (Vienna, 1835). From the Persian he translated the entire "Divan" of Hafiz (Stuttgart and Tübingen, 1812-13). Unfortunately this rendering is in German prose and does scant justice to the original but it was the first time the poems of Persia's greatest lyrist were made known to Europe in their entirety. He also published the Persian text with a German version of Mahmud Shabistarl's famous Sufi poem "Gulshan-i-raz" under the title of "Mahmud Schabisteris Rosenflor des Geheimnisses" (Pest, 1838), and a part of the "Ta'rikh-i-Wassaf", under the title "Geschichte Wassafs" (Vienna, 1856). From the Turkish he made a translation of the "Divan" of Baki (Vienna, 1825), of Fazli's romantic poem "Gul u Bulbul", i.e. "Rose and Nightingale" (Pest, 1834), and of the "Baznamah", a treatise on falconry, which he published with two other treatises on the same subject, one Greek and one German, under the title "Falknerklee" (Vienna, 1840).

Hammer's contributions to literary history were very important. Together with Count Reviczky he founded the "Fundgruben des Orients" (Vienna, 1809-19, 6 vols.), a periodical devoted to Oriental subjects. His "Geschichte der schönen Redekünste Persiens" (Vienna, 1818), based on Daulatshah's "Taz-kirat-ushu'ara", a sort of history of Persian poetry although now wholly antiquated, had great influence on German poetry. Goethe and Rückert made liberal use of it. Hammer also wrote a history of Turkish poetry, "Geschichte der osmanischen Diehtkunst" (Pest, 1836-3S, 4 vols.), and one of Arabic literature, "Literaturgeschichte der Araber" (Vienna, 1850-56, 7 vols), which today has little more than historic value. His original poems, based mostly on Oriental models, are devoid of literary merit.


SCHLOTTMAN, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (Zurich, 1857); AHLWARDT, Chalef Elahmars Quasside, nebst Wurdigung Joseph von Hammer als Arabistan (Greifswald, 1859). See also GOETHE, Westosliche Divan, notes.

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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Joseph, Baron von Hammer-Purgstall'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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